One of things I have long decided I would do would be to buy as much of the British countryside as possible and plant trees. If I could I’d plant a massive forest that would one day have ancient oaks and yews. With the trees would come wildness, and space for animals that have long since disappeared from the British countryside.
This, in essence, is the proposal behind George Monbiot’s Feral; that the worst thing we have done to the British countryside is to manage it. Instead we should let nature manage itself wherever possible, introducing native species and then stepping back and seeing what happens.
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Monbiot makes a compelling case, one that strikes a chord with anyone who wishes that the UK could one day have a genuine wilderness again. He exposes the way our countryside has been held hostage to amongst others; sheep farmers, remote landowners, game hunters, the forestry commission and a general obliviousness to the ecological poverty in the UK.
As Monbiot scrambles his way around the hills of Wales & Scotland you start seeing with his eyes (it’s good writing) and seeing not just what is there, but what isn’t. What often isn’t there are trees or in some cases much of anything that’s not a sheep. What should be there are beavers, lynx, wildcat, wolves, boar, moose, bison – and a whole range of birdlife. Our seas are depleted where instead there should be a richness of fish that would bring great whales back to our shores.
In some cases the only obstacle is bureaucratic incompetence, a British love of a tidy countryside and a lack of imagination. Monbiot exposes the first two and does his best to stir the third from its slumber. He’s also well aware that if his dream is ever to see the light of day he needs to do a few things: provide evidence, give examples and show how it makes money.
He gives all three a creditable go. From trophic cascades and the reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone park, to the re-wilding of Slovenia and the case that wildlife tourism would be not only be more interesting but also more profitable than raising sheep.
I admit, I was a convert before I bought the book and so his ideas met with no resistance. I live in Sweden where you can walk for days through forests and have a genuine chance of encountering boar, wolf, bear and moose. Where swimming in lakes and rivers are encouraged, where wilderness still exists. I see no reason why extensive parts of Wales, England and Scotland could not be the same. I hope Monbiot succeeds in his quest to re-wild the world, the world would be a richer place.